History of Firestopping
Disasters caused the development of the firestopping industry. The need for firestop systems became evident after an untested, unlisted material caused a disaster. At Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama, urethane foam was used as a firestop material in electrical conduit penetrations through fire-rated walls and floors. A fire started when a worker, trying to test the material for smoke containment, held a candle under the fire/air seal. When the seal ignited and burned, fire spread rapidly affecting critical control systems.
Other major fires around the country where the tragic loss of life and property could have been reduced significantly by installation of proper firestop systems include the following:
MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas – 1980. Eighty-five (85) died. The majority of the deaths where between the 20th and 25th floors of the hotel, even though the fire started on the first floor. Joints, shafts and egress stairwells allowed smoke to pass quickly to upper floors.
First Interstate Bank, Los Angeles – 1988. Thirty people were injured and $50 million in loss was recorded in the worst high-rise building fire in L.A.’s history;
Meridian Plaza, Philadelphia – 1991. Three deaths were the cause of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit. The sprinkler system did not operate properly due to electrical failure at the controls.
Because of disasters like these, National Code Organizations added provisions to their codes that require tested and listed firestop systems (ASTM E-814) be installed in penetrations of walls, floors, gaps and joints. These firestop systems prevent the rapid spread of fire, smoke and gasses between compartments reducing property damage and saving lives.
In the firestopping industry, if an installer, estimator or other person misses a parameter, whether intentional or not, it could potentially cause loss of life, property damage or interruption in continuity of operations. Therefore, it’s important to install to the tested and listed system specifications. It is imperative that firestop installing be viewed as a “zero tolerance” item. If the specifications of a tested system are not followed, the system may fail, rendering the investment in building and life protection useless.